Just like that it’s a new year.
January is a month of new beginning and possibilities, including setting new running goals for the year ahead.
Perhaps it’s a mileage goal, such as running 1,000km total. Or hitting a new PB, your best ever 5km, 10km or marathon finish time. Or to enter and complete a marathon or ultra for the first time.
For others it’s hoping to get out more, in return for longer miles and wider smiles. Or incorporating running as part of an overall healthier lifestyle.
In this article I’ll share a framework to follow for setting and reviewing new running goals for 2024. It’s also a good opportunity to reflect on the miles behind us and I’ll share what I personally want to achieve in the new 12 months.
If you’re serious about having your best running year ever you must write down your goals and how you’re going to achieve them.
Framework For Setting New Fitness Goals For 2024
Conduct a Running Audit
First: what are you already doing?
If you set goals this time last year, dig them out.
Even if you ran free range, without much of a plan, it’s a useful exercise to take stock of how far you’ve come and the lessons learnt.
Here’s a few questions to ask yourself:
- Tally up a rough estimate of your annual miles
- What running scenarios created the biggest highs this year?
- What photos did you take on your runs?
- How well did you stick to a training plan?
- What injuries did you overcome?
- What did I not do because of fear?
Let’s tackle a few of those individually:
Tally Up a Rough Estimate of Your Annual Miles
To assess your fitness level, first consider your running base. Reflect on your recent experiences with running or any other cardiovascular exercises. A tracking app will do this for you, but you should be able to calculate it based on multiplying your current weekly run rate by 52. It’s likely you’ve covered more miles than you think.
The purpose of this exercise is to remind you what you’re capable of and to act as the foundation for realistic but stretch goals next year.
If you have been inactive for a while, remember that it’s crucial to start slow and gradually increase your intensity and duration.
Which Runs Created the Biggest Highs This Year?
Seasoned runners know there’s no such thing as a bad run. However, some leave you on such a powerful high they stick with you for a long time.
It could be because you’ve found your flow, encountered awe-inspiring sights, fallen in love with the magic of parkruns, or started trail running. Running has soul nourishing qualities. Recognising and recording them can help to increase the odds of finding them on more runs.
Top tip: Create a Running Mood Calendar
The idea is that you reflect on your calendar from a day or week and colour code the runs according to whether they created energy (green), drained energy (red), or were neutral (yellow). Jot down the circumstances behind them too.
The Mood Calendar is a great, visual way to course correct on a weekly/monthly basis if there are specific activities that are highly positive or negative for your energy. Do more of the good stuff in 2024!
💌 Learn Runner Psychology… in 5 Mins a Month
What Photos Did You Take on Your Runs?
Another way to fuel longer and faster runs in 2024 is to tap into the power of awe.
My ‘favourites’ photo album on my phone is a busy collection of anything and everything that’s delighted me on my runs. Running first thing in the morning, still in a dream state, I often forget I’ve taken them.
Snapping away also sharpens my capacity for awe and my desire to go further. Moments of awe multiply and pierce through otherwise routine runs, making it a really easy decision to get out every day. Remind yourself of those beautiful highs and don’t be shy as to where your 2024 runs could take you.
Related reading: Turn Wander Into Wonder – With an Awe Walk (or Awe Run)
What Injuries Did You Overcome?
There’s many benefits of jogging everyday but you must listen to your body.
Running injuries have a nasty habit of reoccurring due to the strain put on the same leg muscles for speed and good technique.
The gastrocnemius and soleus, power the calves and are responsible for lifting the heel and pushing you forward. Meanwhile, the quads and gluteal muscles act as an anchor for your pelvis to stabilize movement, particularly during the float phase when both feet are off the ground.
The quadriceps (or thigh muscle) dictate your stride and ability to run uphill, while your hamstrings are responsible for force production in the push-off phases. Running also works core muscles like the obliques and rectus abdominis, to help stabilize the lumbar spine and reduce compressive forces in the spine.
I’ve had to incorporate more variation into my workouts to offset a niggling knee injury and the occasional ankle stiffness. This includes cross-training activities like swimming, cycling, or rowing to help build my endurance and avoid placing too much stress on the same leg muscles. Cross-training provides an excellent opportunity to work on different muscle groups and improve your overall fitness. I’ve found, it also keeps things interesting as the necessary motivation to run disappears from time to time.
What Did You Not Do Because of Fear?
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life. Most of which never happened” – Mark Twain
“Most people overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a month. We overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade.” – Matthew Kelly
These are two of my favourite quotes when it comes to dreaming big and not being afraid to fail.
By deconstructing my fears and facing them head on I’m able to undertake the running challenges that really make me feel alive.
Some useful prompts include:
- Remember when your longest distance ran felt out of reach
- What was the downside of taking action?
- What was the upside from taking the leap?
- Were you held back by others or yourself?
- How well did you stick to a training plan?
- Would external incentives help to complete the task? e.g. raising money for a running charity you care about
I like to dream big but break it break down huge goals into small, manageable action steps. It’s the only way I was able to complete my challenge of running the Hadrian Wall 135km route. After all, we suffer more in imagination than in reality.
What Did You Learn About Your Running This Year?
I’ll go first. For me, I’ve loved writing about running.
Running has given me so much of the years. It’s kept me happy at work, allowed me to work through grief, and been an outlet for all manner of other feelings. It’s been the vehicle for raising meaningful money for charity. To connect with likeminded souls. To really push myself.
This year I’ve really enjoyed putting it into words. Sharing.
2023 has also made me realise I don’t always need to run crazy distances. There’s so much awesomeness in the everyday. What you find often depends on what you look for. Needless to say, that’s often found on the trails.
Last but not least, I’m grateful for running’s ability to take me to new places. The ads on this website paid for a trip of Oslo and running tour of the city. Thank you for spending time on the site!
So, in summary, this year taught me to enjoy the bits around running more. Turns out speed and distance aren’t everything.
My Personal Running Goals For 2024
For me, it’s:
- Running as a tourist in Italy on a 4-month sabbatical from work
- More strength training in our new home gym (yet to be built)
- Building a community of feel good runners (potentially on Facebook)
- Healthier eating – more meal planning and lower alcohol intake
- Sharing my running photos on Flickr and Unsplash
How to Create New Running Goals
My framework for creating new running goals typically follows six themes:
- Epic Goals
- Milestone Goals
- Daily Systems
#1: Epic Goals – Aim for the Stars
These are your big hairy audacious goals. In the business world, a big hairy audacious goal refers to an outrageous target that an organisation seeks to work toward by inspiring its employees.
Your running goals should equally compel you to achieve new heights, although be grounded in some reality. Think along the lines of completing your first marathon or ultra, running a sub 20 minute parkrun, or finishing 1,000 miles for the year.
Even if you fail, by getting close you’ll achieve outstanding results after dedicating and applying yourself to the lofty goal.
#2: Milestone Goals – Break Those Epics Down
Work backwards from your Epic Goals to formulate a set of quarterly goals. If the Epics are the summit of the mountain trail, the Milestone Goals are the mid-climb snack.
For a marathon this could be the moment you undertake your first 20km, 30km and 40km runs. Your chances of completing a marathon in a decent time are very slim unless your training reaches these levels.
Running apps such as Strava can help to keep you accountable.
#3: Daily Systems – Building Good Habits
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” – James Clear
Your goal is your desired outcome. Your system is the collection of daily habits that will get you there.
I like to borrow from the Stoics. Stoicism emphasises intent and actions, rather than the outcome, which is ultimately out of our control. In the example of a race, they’ll always be somebody faster than you, but running to your full potential is what matters most.
Stoic runners have a clever knack of sticking to 2-3 habits and keeping high standards. Trusting the process, knowing results will follow, rather than focusing on outside influences.
If the Epics and Milestones are your compass, setting your direction, the Daily Systems are your feet, ensuring continuous forward momentum.
Top Tip: Read James Clear’s excellent Atomic Habits book to learn about habit formation
#4: Reviews – Monthly Running Check-Ins
Checking in with yourself is an honest moment of reflection of your habits and behaviours. It’s also an intentional way to pay attention to how you feel on an emotional, mental and physical level.
As a runner of 10+ years, I used to be guilty of running on autopilot and not taking them time to seek out new routes and experiences. Writing on Rundure.com helps me to build more gratitude and growth into my running, which ultimately benefits every aspect of my life.
#5: Rewards – Positive Run Reinforcement
Give yourself an immediate reward after key runs. Examples include finishing off at a coffee shop, treating yourself to a takeaway, or investing in a new item of running gear.
Rewards are crucial to the habit formation process as a shortcut for which habits are worth keeping. The positive experience you engineer reinforces the behaviour just performed.
#6: Anti-Goals – Knowing What To Avoid
All great running strategies involve sacrifice.
Anti-goals are the things we DON’T want to happen—either as final outcomes or along the way.
Examples of running anti-goals might include:
- drinking less – no more hangovers
- hiring a running coach – never think about training plans
- join a running club – never lose motivation
- taking 2 rest days per week – avoid common injuries
Endnote: Ease Yourself Into Any New Running Regime
If you’re anything like me, running started out as a desire to get fit, before quickly becoming a habit and now a bit of an obsession. I now run or walk 10km daily. However, I’ve also learnt the hard way not to overdo it.
To prevent running addiction and get injured, it’s important to maintain a healthy balance in your training routine. Incorporate a variety of physical activities, not just running, to keep your fitness journey enjoyable and well-rounded. It’s crucial to listen to your body and know when to slow down or take a break.
- Set realistic milestone goals
- Stick to a regular schedule, and avoid overtraining
- Include a rest day in your exercise routine
- Resist the temptation to return before fully recovered from an injury
- Mix in other forms of exercise like strength training, swimming, or yoga
Good luck on your running adventures in 2024. Let me know in the comments below what goals you’re setting for yourself…